Ask an AT (Appalachian Trail) thru-hiker (one who completed the entire 2,168 miles from Springer Mountain, GA to Mount Katahdin, ME) what they think about Pennsylvania and their likely response will be, “What, Rocksylvania?” along with a painful wince. That’s because in Pennsylvania hikers must become climbers, or they won’t finish.
Portions of the AT get so rocky in Pennsylvania that the “white blaze” symbols that mark the AT from Georgia to Maine are painted on top of rocks and boulders rather than on trees as they are the entire 2000+ miles of the trail.
But the views are worth the climb. Bella, my four-legged trail blazer, joined Ed and I on our final hike of 2015 on a winter-defying December day. A half-hour into our trek I was down to a t-shirt and warmup jacket, sweating profusely, and loving every second of it. Above the timberline vistas of farmland and distant mountains are reward for the work.
There are portions of the ridge you can motor along at a steady pace and make time, others where each step is treacherous, and trying to make time can lead to a wrong move and cause a twisted ankle, or worse.
The white blazes that mark the AT are spread so thin in some stretches of the trail it’s easy to lose sight of them and go off course. Bella’s sense to sniff her way to the next marker is uncanny. Her nose for the trail seems to get stronger with age.